Making the Most of Your SAT/ACT Test Day

It's wise to prepare for not only the content of the tests, but for the experience of testing itself. These tips cover what to do the day before the test, test day, after the test, and when the results arrive.
Students taking the SAT

Students taking the SAT® or ACT® are wise to prepare for not only the content of the tests but for the experience of testing itself. Spending upwards of three-and-a-half hours reading, calculating, and filling in bubbles is an unusual task, and it's important that students make smart choices during the 24 hours leading up to the test so that they can feel as ready as possible on test day morning. This Test Day Game Plan will help students to plan strategically and ensure that nothing catches them by surprise when they sit for their official test.

The Day Before the Test 

  • Relax. This is not a good day to write a 10-page essay or run a marathon. You'll need your energy tomorrow morning.
  • Eat. Eat good stuff, loaded with proteins and healthy fats and complex carbs. This is a test of endurance, so loading up on nutritious food the night before is essential.
  • Drink lots of water. A hydrated brain is a happy brain.
  • Practice. Work through a couple of practice problems from each section. Try to spend 30-60 minutes making sure that you'll know exactly what to do in each section. This is not the time to try to learn something new but instead an opportunity to review your strategies and reflect on how you will approach each section.
  • Prep your materials. Make sure that you have everything that you'll need for tomorrow laid out by the door and ready to go. This includes your admission ticket, calculator, batteries, pencils, directions to the testing center, photo identification, and snacks for during the test.

Test Day 

  • Wake up early. Give yourself plenty of time in the morning. This is one day when it shouldn't be a rush to get out the front door.
  • Eat (again). Have a big, healthy breakfast that will fuel you for the next several hours. Avoid sugars; they won't do you any good when it comes to sustained mental focus. Also, if you typically drink coffee, then drink coffee. If you don't, then don't start today.
  • While you're eating breakfast, tackle a handful of practice problems. Don't go for the crazy hard ones at the end of the section, but instead try four or five easy and medium questions to warm up your brain and build up your confidence.
  • Walk around the block, do jumping jacks, or engage in some other form of light exercise (on the morning of the test, Sal Khan of Khan Academy used to do push-ups while listening to "Eye of the Tiger").  You're about to spend your entire morning sitting at an uncomfortable desk taking a test, so whatever your preferred aerobic activity, do it. Loosen up a bit.
  • Wear a layered outfit. Some test centers are freezing, others are way too hot. Wear something that allows you to adjust accordingly.
  • Bring snacks. Granola bars and trail mix are great for test day. Nourish yourself like you're going for a hike.
  • Lastly, be confident!  You've been preparing for this test, and you've probably completed more practice problems than most of the other people in the room with you. You know how to take this test, so put your skills to work!

After the Test 

  • Take a few moments to jot down anything notable from your test experience (timing challenges, surprises, sections that felt easier than usual). This will be helpful information if you retake the test in the future.
  • Treat yourself! You've completed one of the most stressful parts of applying to college. What's done is done, and ruminating about the test won't make the scores come back any quicker. Take yourself out for ice cream, watch a movie with friends, or go to the beach or a park. Whatever you do, be kind to yourself this afternoon – you've earned it.

 When Results Arrive 

  • Look at the results – you'll probably be anxious to see the numbers. This can be emotionally loaded information, so take a look at the score, then do something else for a while.
  • A few days later, once you're past the surprise (be it good or bad) of seeing your scores, sit down and review the results with your family. If you have questions, seek out thoughtful, strategic advice from your school counselor or a test professional.

Learn more about the SAT and ACT